Christmas tree in a living room

Look, I’ve been in your shoes. You buy and buy and charge and buy for thirty days then early Christmas morning as you’re putting the finishing touches on building a tricycle that’s only taken ten hour to complete, you look at all the presents under the tree and discover a six inch gap between the wall of presents.

Yikes! There are not enough presents! How will your children live with this gap? How will you live with yourself?

Ok, take a deep breath. A storm of little legs and big grins will come barreling into the living room in about four hours. You need to be happy and joyful, not fearful. Keep the following in mind:

  1. Children can’t open all the presents most parents buy. I remember being panicked at our oldest son’s second Christmas that there weren’t enough gifts. I was nervous and guilty until he passed out unconscious on top of a box with half the wrapped gifts still unwrapped. It dawned on me he would have been just as happy with two gifts, not twenty.

  1. We buy gifts to make us feel better about being parents. If we go into credit card debt over Christmas gifts, we must be great parents, right? Right? Well, no. Because when the credit card bills come in January, we’re going to look at the broken toys and become irate our kids can’t take care of their stuff.

  1. The life expectancy of most Christmas gifts is about 72 hours. This is my own calculation based on any toy in a two year olds’ hands, but you get the idea. There are exceptions like bikes and tricycles (which are left out in the rain and snow), but on most every other toy the clock is ticking the moment it’s unwrapped.

  1. Mortgages, car payments and utility bills still need to be paid. You can’t send the bank a box full of unused video games and hope for the best. Think of that gap in presents underneath the tree as a testament to your financial planning.

  1. Young children especially are more excited about opening presents than what is inside the boxes. Seriously, what’s more fun . . . tearing open wrapping paper and ribbons and yanking out stuffing paper, or playing with some dumb toy that has about an hour happiness quotient? The box will win every time. There was one Christmas where my son tore into an elaborately wrapped big gift box, dragged the toy out of it and then climbed into the box. With what I know now, I would give every child four and under a giant wrapped, ribboned, glued, stuffed box that would take them an hour to open and find a $2 toy inside. They would be just as happy.

The message here is simple: you will never ever be able to buy your child everything in the world that will keep them forever happy, whether you spend a $40, $400 or $4000 on them at Christmas time. You can however, create a home where love and joy and wonder sparkle over the holidays. And all the toys in the world can’t buy that.

It’s foolish to find yourself in the “If I can buy one or two more presents then I’ll be a good parent” trap. Let go of your guilt. Hug your child. Enjoy the holidays.

Merry Christmas!

Harry H. Harrison Jr. is a NYTIMES best selling parenting author with over 3.5 million books in print. He has been interviewed on over 25 television programs, and featured in over 75 local and national radio stations including NPR. His books are available in over thirty-five countries throughout Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Norway, South America, China, Saudi Arabia and in the Far East. For more information visit www.fearlessparenting.com.

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